Weekly Highlights for 6-28-2012
I. Departmental/Bureau News
A. Upcoming Events
No Upcoming Events highlights for this week
A letter from the Marine Mammal Commission (MMC) recognized Dr. Chadwick Jay, USGS Alaska Science Center Research Ecologist, for his outstanding contributions to research on the population status of Pacific Walrus. Timothy Ragen, Executive Director of the MMC, praised Jay's work and efforts to integrate walrus movement and distribution data with broader ecological measurements to help understand the responses of walrus to changing conditions in the Arctic. Much of Jay's telemetry research would not have been as complete without the collaboration with Russian scientists. The Marine Mammal Commission is an independent agency of the U.S. Government that provides independent oversight of the marine mammal conservation policies and programs being carried out by federal regulatory agencies.
Anchorage, AK, (907) 786-7414
USGS Alaska Science Center researchers will attach 40 satellite radio-tags to walruses in the northeastern Chukchi Sea, July 10-24. The study is tracking the movement patterns and foraging behaviors of walruses within areas of offshore sea ice. The retreat of sea ice beyond the continental shelf in recent years represents a step change in the summer habitat for the Pacific walrus and our observations of their behavior under these conditions in the first five years of extreme summer ice minimums is providing a glimpse into their potential future response. This study will also provide information needed by managers to mitigate the effects of increased human activities on walruses as areas of the Arctic become more accessible with reductions in sea ice. The Western States Office of Communications is also participating on this tagging cruise to develop outreach products explaining the significance of USGS science in addressing these issues. For more information visit: http://alaska.usgs.gov/science/biology/walrus/index.html.
Anchorage, AK, (907) 786-7414
Detection of avian influenza viruses in shorebirds worldwide is generally low (<1 percent), except in one species and geographic area: the Ruddy Turnstone on the Atlantic coast of North America. Low prevalence elsewhere has hampered robust conclusions about the ecology and evolution of avian influenza viruses in shorebirds. An alternative to measuring current infection is to serologically evaluate historical exposure. In a recent study, biologists John Pearce and Dan Ruthrauff of the USGS Alaska Science Center—in collaboration with research virologist Jeffrey Hall of the USGS National Wildlife Health Center—assessed historical exposure of five shorebird species in Alaska to avian influenza. Similar to the Atlantic coast of North America, Ruddy Turnstones of Alaska also had the highest levels of avian influenza antibody prevalence. Where active infection takes place and why Ruddy Turnstones appear more susceptible remains unknown. The study was recently published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases: http://www.jwildlifedis.org/cgi/content/abstract/48/3/812.
Pearce, J. M., D. R. Ruthrauff, and J. S. Hall. 2012. Paired Serologic and Polymerase Chain Reaction Analyses of Avian Influenza Prevalence in Alaskan Shorebirds. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 48:812-814
Anchorage, AK, (907) 786-7094
Avian Keratin Disorder: An emerging avian disease, termed Avian Keratin Disorder, has been documented by the USGS Alaska Science Center and collaborators over the past decade in more than 2,000 Black-capped Chickadees and other wild bird species in North America. The disease results in gross overgrowth of the outer, keratinized layer of the beak. In a new publication, two Alaska Science Center research biologists, Caroline Van Hemert and Colleen Handel, in collaboration with Todd O'Hara at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, tested the hypothesis that the beak deformities characteristic of this disorder are associated with accelerated keratin production. The study found that rates of absolute growth were 50–100 percent higher in affected birds than in control birds and exceeded records from other passerine species. These results suggest that abnormally rapid epidermal growth is the primary physical mechanism by which beak deformities develop and are maintained in affected chickadees. Additional study of factors that control beak keratin production is needed to understand the pathogenesis of this debilitating disease in wild birds. The study was recently published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases: http://www.jwildlifedis.org/cgi/content/abstract/48/3/686.
Van Hemert, C., C. M. Handel, T. M. O'Hara. 2012. Evidence of accelerated beak growth associated with avian keratin disorder in black-capped chickadees
(Poecile atricapillus). Journal of Wildlife Diseases 48:686-694
Anchorage, AK, (907) 786-7181
II. Press Inquiries/Media
Alaska Science Center in the News: On June 26, a USGS news release "Shrews in the News—Rapid Evolution of Shrews in Response to Climate Change" featured a new study in the Journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. In this study research geneticists Andrew Hope and Sandra Talbot of the USGS Alaska Science Center, along with colleagues from the Museum of Southwestern Biology at the University of New Mexico and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, document rapid genetic evolution of small mammals on the North Slope of Alaska in response to historic climate change. The news release may be found at http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=3261 and the publication is at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1055790312001996.
Anchorage, AK, (907) 786-7193